Don MacNaughton Coaching

Taking Responsibility to Improve

“Coaches can’t make a player a better footballer on their own; 90 per cent of it is up to the player.” – Eric Black

The experiences Eric Black had as a player combined with the learning opportunities he had as a trainee coach gave him a valuable insight into what it takes to be a successful football coach in the modern game.

Players Need to Relate

Eric says,

“I enjoyed training as a player, so it was something I tried to replicate as a coach. Training sessions needed to be enjoyable, but they also needed to have an outcome. I realised early on that what you did on the training field had to relate to what was going to be going on out on the pitch on a Saturday – players need to relate to what they’re doing.” 

What Eric is highlighting is that to be effective as a coach, players don’t just need to know what to do in training, they need to know the why of what they’re being asked to do. He says,

“It’s no good just doing a drill because it’s a good drill. Players want to know what the drill will do for them and what the benefits of doing it are. A coach’s role is to try to make players better players, but for me, I also wanted players to enjoy getting better.”

Engaging the Players

Players need to believe that the training they are doing will make them better footballers, but in Eric’s experience, not all players want to get better:

“A coach can work hard on trying to improve players, but improvements won’t come unless the players themselves want to be better footballers. If they’re not committed to getting better as players, the coach can’t help. Coaches can’t make a player better on their own; 90 per cent of it must come from the player.”

It’s Eric’s belief that players in today’s game have access to so much more information than the generations of players before them, and this has changed the power balance between the coach and the players. He says,

“The demands on a coach today are enormous. You have to be up to date and you have to be getting it right, and you need to be able to relate to players as individuals. The one-size-fits-all coaching approach is no longer effective, and it takes a certain character to be a coach in the modern game. It’s vital to ensure that the things you spend time on are the things that matter, and not the peripheral goings on that can upset and drain you.”

An effective coach can engage with players as individuals, and this involves developing excellent communication skills, including emotional intelligence. As Eric puts it,

“You have to get players emotionally involved in what you’re trying to achieve.”


Don MacNaughton has worked for the last 17 years helping professionals in Sport and Business get the most out of their talent.

To listen to the full interview with Eric click here

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